There have been opera horror movies—“The Phantom,” of course, and Dario Argento’s “Opera.” But “Black Swan” is certainly a rarity, if not a complete innovation—a ballet horror movie, though one could certainly term it operatic from a stylistic standpoint. Darren Aronofsky’s film is reminiscent of his earlier “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream” in its use of hallucinatory visuals to depict the workings of an obsessed (or drug-addled) mind, but it goes beyond them in portraying the mental collapse of a driven but troubled young dancer who wins the titular role in a revisionist Lincoln Center production of “Swan Lake.”

Natalie Portman, in a part that tests her physical skill as well as her acting chops, stars as Nina Sayers, one of the female dancers in the company led by demanding director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). Constantly pushed by her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), an erstwhile dancer herself who abandoned her ambitions when she got pregnant, Nina aims to secure the lead in his new production of the Tchaikovsky favorite—a role that’s come open after Leroy essentially fired his long-time star Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder). But he’s searching for a ballerina who can successfully embody both the White Swan and her evil Black counterpart, and he isn’t certain she’s up to the task. In addition, a recent member of the company—free-spirited, reckless Lily (Mila Kunis), recently arrived from San Francisco—is perhaps angling for the part, too.

The key to appreciating “Black Swan” is to embrace the fact that the film is told entirely from Nina’s perspective, even though it naturally has to observe her from outside, and to understand that all that we’re shown represents the take on events as they’re read by a clearly disintegrating mind. The visual peculiarity of much of what we see, accentuated by Aronofsky’s florid style, cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s busily swirling hand-held camerawork and Andrew Weisblum’s jagged editing, derives from that deterioration—which is reflected physically in Nina’s inclination to cut herself and almost exult in the injuries she has to overcome (and which the director exults in focusing on in grisly detail).

So you have to imagine that the atmosphere is in fact competitive and catty, but also that it’s ratcheted up because Nina experiences it on steroids. And that the other characters have the traits we observe (presuming, of course, that they exist at all except in her mind), but that Nina sees them in exaggerated terms. So Thomas may be demanding, but in her eyes he’s the malevolent Svengali, and Erica is a woman trying to live vicariously through her daughter, but to Nina she’s a hellish grotesque, her black wardrobe mirroring her darkness of soul. And Beth may be furious at being thrown over, but Nina perceives her as broken and self-destructive. And Lily is probably as shrewdly manipulative as any member of the troupe, but in Nina’s view she’s a thorough Machiavellian, enticing her rival into a night on the town, surreptitiously giving her drugs and even coming on to her.

In fact, though, at least some of what we’re shown is Nina’s hallucination, and Aronofsky constantly keeps us uncertain about how much. He employs virtually every trope of the psychological thriller to keep the viewer on edge—sudden movement at the edge of frame, an ominous score by Clint Mansell, threatening imagery that looms over us. And he rejoices in sudden jolts of language and visual effects, like a wall-full of paintings and drawings that suddenly come to life and jabber at Nina (and us). And as would seem obligatory in a picture that mirrors the “Swan Lake” ballet, he also keeps returning to the doppelganger theme, suggesting that much of what Nina sees in Lily (and some of her other rivals) may, in fact, be nothing more that projections of herself, and to repeated indications that Nina’s psychological turmoil stems from sexual repression (which leads to some fairly steamy moments).

The result is a film that’s really nothing more than a high-toned horror film, but an exceptionally effective one that may not equal Cronenberg, but has a good deal that’s Cronenbergian in it. And it’s very well cast, with Portman stretching to her limits physically as well as emotionally, Hershey embodying the single-minded stage mother, and Cassel convincingly autocratic and calculating. Kunis does nicely with her ambiguous role of talented tart, and Ryder shrieks and pouts exuberantly as the furious has-been. Technically the picture is topnotch down the line.

“Black Swan” certainly won’t be to all tastes, any more than Cronenberg’s “Dead Ringers” was. But though it’s hardly on the same level as that masterpiece, it reasonably effective on its own operatically dramatic terms.